Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I Suck at Math and I can't Draw to Save My Life

On more than a couple occasions, even around the studio, I've noticed how people are very quick to throw up their hands when they have to do math. Some people wear it as a badge..."I can't do Math!" Or maybe a bumper sticker—a statement that they are proud to hate math and just as quick to write off any possibility of getting good at it. Interesting enough, people are just as quick to say that they aren't good at art. Why do you think this is? In one regard, they both occupy the polar regions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain: pure creativity versus raw logic. I think it's interesting that people are so quick to freeze and give up when asked to perform an artistic or mathematical task when the brain is wired to do both. One theory is that most people have had a bad experience with a math or art teacher.

We already have a spokesman on the art side—our very own Peter H. Reynolds. He's the champion of ishful thinking and gets energized when people say they can't draw. Well, Danica McKeller (better known as Winnie Cooper of the Wonder Years) just wrote a book targeted at teenage girls that makes a similar claim, the title being Math Doesn't Suck. She has a website to go along with it, too. Who knew she was a mathematician? She's basically a proponent of teaching math using a conversational approach and is also trying to erase the stigma that girls aren't good at math. Sounds like a great cause to me!


Marli said...

There was a similar idea, geared towards a slightly younger age group, by Louis Sachar, called
"Sideways Arithmatic at Wayside School." The questions were mostly logic puzzles, and some, as you progressed, were VERY difficult, but I was hooked from the connection to the "Sideways Stories at Wayside School" books (the puzzles were taught by Mrs. Jewls and the other students popped in as well).

I think math and art are also seen as "you have it or you don't" - writing, science, history, these are often treated as facts and rules to be learned. But where does music fall in the mix?

Bob Flynn said...

Music is interesting. Because there is the popular notion that people who are good in math are also good at music (and vice versa), which isn't necessarily true at all. But it does bode well for music education (people spin that practicing music makes you better at math).

I think of music as a structured art with a set of rules and solid framework. But music isn't really logical at all. Especially if you're improvising.

The sad thing is that math is extremely useful, and shouldn't be shrugged off as something for a select few. Just like art, I think most people who have a hard time with math just haven't been taught it well. And there is also the notion that if you don't get something immediately, there's something wrong with you. Because of how math is taught in school, its a no brainer why students get left behind, because you're expected to get it immediately.

John L said...

I think both math and art require your brain to think differently than usual, and that can be daunting. I also think they come naturally to some people whose brains work in that way, just as music comes naturally to some people. And we are taught that we should pursue those things we are good at, and forget about those we struggle with.

I also think the methods of teaching math and art and music -- memorize, repeat, don't make mistakes -- help discourage kids early. Actually math can be a very creative, poetic subject, and music is more than just playing the notes.

Bob Flynn said...

Thanks John. You always have a way of summarizing and contributing with an economy of words :) I guess both art and math are not a aspect of everyday life for most. So they are outside people's comfort zones. But I believe this to be a cultural phenomenon more than anything else. As you said, we are encouraged to pursue what we are good at. We all specialize in something very specific, and make a career of it.